A friend of mine has come back to Kyoto for two weeks or so, and we spent yesterday afternoon strolling around the Arashiyama and Higashiyama mountains of Kyoto. It is always nice talking to him, mostly because we learn from and challenge each other. He, as another mathematician, is also very observant, something I’m not used to anymore in my other friends.

For example, he said that when we were walking around at Higashiyama, that he could feel that this was “my” part of town; he said that I was “walking differently”. I thought about this and indeed, I felt more relaxed there than in Arashiyama where we had gone before. Altogether, I have been to Arashiyama only three or four times. It is quite far from my place (about an hour away, no matter how I’d go there) and it is always very crowded, which I don’t like at any time – it stresses me. This is probably because the interesting area of Arashiyama (especially to the east of Togetsukyo bridge) is rather small, and there are not many other routes where you could avoid all the people. And then I also wanted to see the bamboo forest, which is essentially only a single long path winding beneath huge bamboo trees (?), so again, no place to avoid all the selfie-shooting people. At least we went during the week…

We had matcha and chocolate at my friend’s cafe, and dinner at a tiny little fish restaurant. And for some reason, we started talking about the purpose of life. I am against the motion that everybody has a specific, earth-moving purpose in life, like so many people seem to think. What if not – that doesn’t mean life is wasted. Maybe somebody’s purpose is simply to drive a bus in a tiny town for 25 years. What’s wrong with that? Besides, if there’s that huge purpose you’ve made out for yourself – what happens if you can’t achieve it for whatever reason? Can you change your purpose? I prefer John Lennon’s take on this:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

We also talked about the funny ways life takes sometimes. He says he goes with the flow, and that he thinks I’m trying to fight it. I’m not sure he is right. I do like to be in control, and I always liked to do my own thing, but at the same time, the first truly independent and conscious decision I made was to give up academia and settle in Japan. Before that, I did the things as they showed up, sometimes put in front of me by other people. Maybe I’m now trying to compensate for that former lack of control? I’m not sure. Japan has changed me, I am much more self-confident now than I was ever before. I cannot change all the circumstances, but I still try to do my own thing.

And he said: “I’m not sure that you are where you should be and that you’re doing what you should be doing.” Actually, I’m not sure about the latter either. I could pour much more effort into things, but something is indeed holding me back, and I don’t know what it is. However, I do believe that at least right now, Japan indeed is the place to be for me. I feel safe here, a very peaceful feeling. Probably my personal growth spurt has something to do with that.